BERLIN - Germany's Protestant Church compared the Hollywood film star Tom Cruise to the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels yesterday and claimed the actor was using his celebrity status to publicise the controversial church of Scientology of which he is a prominent member.
The criticism of Cruise, who is in Germany to make a film about an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, was the most vitriolic in a series of attacks on the actor over his membership of Scientology - an organisation regarded as a cult in Germany and kept under intelligence surveillance.
Thomas Gandow, 60, the German Protestant Church's chief spokesman on religious cults described Scientology as a "totalitarian organisation" and said that, because of his position as film star, Cruise had become "The Goebbels of Scientology."
In his film Valkyrie Tom Cruise, 45, plays Claus von Stauffenberg, a German army officer and aristocrat who tried to assassinate Hitler in 1944 by planting a bomb inside the Nazi leader's East Prussian headquarters.
However Gandow dismissed the film yesterday as "Propaganda for Scientology".
He added in a reference to the favourable publicity won by Hitler's Nazi party during the 1936 Berlin Olympic games: "This film will have the same propaganda advantages for Scientology as the 1936 Olympics had for the Nazis."
Gandow insisted that Cruise had simply come to Germany to campaign for restrictions on Scientology to be lifted.
His attack on the actor followed criticism from the German Defence Ministry which was reported to have banned the actor from filming at key military sites in Berlin which were authentic locations during the 1944 plot against Hitler.
The ministry made it clear that it objected to the fact that von Stauffenberg, one of Germany's few anti-Nazi resistance heroes, was being played by a Scientology member, it was claimed.
Berlin police subsequently refused to allow the actor to film at a police station in the city's Kreuzberg district, the reports said.
However, a spokesman for the finance ministry, which is responsible for granting permission to film at federal buildings, told the AFP News Agency that Berlin had no problem with the production, noting that Singer had won approval for all the sites on his wish list with just one exception.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling conservatives disagreed - but only slightly - with the church's Goebbels-Cruise comparison.
Antje Blumenthal, a conservative MP and leading Scientology critic said: "Unlike the Nazi propaganda minister, Tom Cruise has the sympathy of the public. As a Scientology ambassador he uses his popularity very cleverly in the interests of the totalitarian sect," she added.
However Dieter Wedel, 46, a veteran German film director, joined other film buffs yesterday in criticising the campaign against the actor.
"This sort of discussion damages Germany as a film location. What an actor believes is irrelevant. I agree that Scientology is dangerous, but there are other ways to combat the organisation," he said.
Florian Henckel von Donnersmark, the Oscar-winning director of Lives of Others, the hit German film about the Stasi secret police, recently rallied to Mr Cruise's support and claimed that by portraying von Stauffenberg, the actor would improve Germany's image more than by hosting ten World Cup Soccer tournaments.
Despite the ferocious public row over Mr Cruise's Scientology membership, his film has been quietly awarded German film board sponsorship.
Shooting got under way at the Babelsberg film studios outside Berlin last week and a photograph of Cruise in the German army officer's uniform worn by von Stauffenberg were published in most newspapers.
Yesterday it was announced that Philip von Schultess, a grandson of von Stauffenberg, would play a German army adjutant in the film.
In an interview earlier this year, von Stauffenberg's son, Berthold, dismissed the film project as "rubbish" and said he objected to a "Scientologist" playing his father.
Mr Cruise's film company has said that the British actor, David Bamber, will play the role of Hitler in the film.